As we get older, a lot of things change: most of us leave our jobs and retire (usually at the age of 63), relocate to smaller homes because our children are grown and the space is simply too much, and watch as our bodies begin to slow down. That last one could refer to the loss of muscle mass, decreased mobility, or — frustratingly — the development of allergies.
Although most commonly associated with children, allergies can strike at any time. As a retiree, the agony of being unable to step outside or spend the day snuggling your pup without coughing and sneezing is simply unbearable; you’ve worked tirelessly to get to this point and are now forced to endure the brutalities of pet dander and pollen. But just why has this change occurred?
The short answer? Nobody really knows, though there are a few ideas floating around. When it comes to aging, the most probable explanation is hormones: some small studies and anecdotal evidence have suggested that your immune system may shift a bit in response to hormonal changes such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. Conditions like asthma, which can be seriously aggravated by allergens, definitely experience symptomatic changes during these hormonal shifts.
Since allergies are associated with sensitive immune systems, disorders and factors that affect your immune system — such as weight gain or obesity — may also play a role. The urge to become sedentary as you age is a common problem for older adults, and one that could lead to such an immune response.
Coping With A Newfound Illness
Nearly 18 million adults suffer from allergies in the United States. With such a high incidence rate, there are a variety of treatment options available, particularly for those suffering from simple pollen and pet dander allergies. Because the side effects can be so exhausting, many opt for injections.
“The fatigue of allergies is huge. The allergic rhinitis, the inflammation, kicks [adults] out of a deep sleep. So they don’t get rest,” said Kevin McGrath, MD, an allergist in Wethersfield, CT. “The allergy injections are one of the few things that are really very good at reversing that fatigue. The quality-of-life improvement is huge.”
For less extreme cases, the solution is simple: take care of your HVAC system, or purchase an air filter special for your home. Your HVAC unit has a built-in air filter that must be changed every three months; if it isn’t, contaminants and air pollutants (such as dander, dust, and chemicals) can build up in the ductwork and aggravate your allergies.
Air ducts are another hidden source of allergens in many homes and commercial buildings. HVAC experts recommend having air ducts cleaned every three to five years, which improves efficiency and often improves air quality.
When you really think about it, only a clean and cared-for filter will be effective at removing the irritants and microscopic aggravants that are responsible for your discomfort. Humans shed between 50 and 100 hairs every day, but many dogs shed noticeably more than that — and on a near-constant basis. To avoid the itchy, runny, and sneezy fallout, invest in an air filter or optimized HVAC system. After all, you deserve to spend your retirement years in peace and sneeze-free quiet!